An ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub at The University of Melbourne is helping the food industry create winning food products, while keeping one step ahead of food counterfeiters.

Led by Professor Frank Dunshea and Hollis Ashman, Unlocking the food value chain: Australian food industry transformation for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) markets—or the Food Value Chain Research Hub—piloted workshops in 2017 with Australian companies that export their products overseas and faced damage from counterfeiters.

The ARC Research Hub built a database of available counterfeiting technologies, and supplemented it with newly-developed anti-counterfeit tactics, to create bespoke anti-counterfeit strategies for individual food products and markets. The strategies included immediate defence methods, as well as packaging, product, marketing, and operational changes designed to provide future protection.

Typically, companies that place products in the marketplace have six months’ grace while counterfeiters watch to see how successful they are. Before that time, a wise company will seek out the best strategy to protect their product, including graphics built into package design, barcodes for track-and-trace, scannable QR codes, radio-frequency identification (RFID), specialty inks, or even harmless chemical markers added to the food itself.

The ARC Research Hub has also developed ‘food emotion’ technology, a portable app to more accurately predict if consumers will like new food products, which reduces the need for expensive and extensive market testing.

The food-emotion technology uses cameras to measure eye movement, heart rate, body temperature, and micro-facial movements of consumers while they are tasting foods, or considering a new packaging design.

In 2017, the ARC Research Hub used this technology to help Australian beer and sparkling wine producers screen existing products to better understand what led to success. From consumer responses, the team determined the key attributes, ingredients, and processes that created winning products, enabling the producers to incorporate those attributes in new products. This capability is now being used on a variety of food products in Australia and is being tested to be used globally.

In 2018, the ARC Research Hub created a ‘Concept Database’ of 18 food categories to understand what drives ‘premiumness’ in these categories (i.e. product, package, ingredients, provenance, channel and occasion) in both Australia and China.

Image: Example of image and video analysis to automatically extract: face, eyes and pupil dilation; heart rate dynamics; Infrared thermography; and micro-facial movements.
Image credit: The University of Melbourne.